By: Heaven Bassett

Ah, winter; the sparkling blanket across the landscape, the drifting white flurries that fall to the ground, sidewalk shoveling, defrosting windshields, heaters thrumming, and fireplaces crackling.

Winter comes with inconvenience, but also provides a temporary playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Some of us hide from the chilly air, while others dive into the powdery Earth and roll into nature’s seasonal gift of fun. No matter how we take on winter, we all have something in common. We eat.

Whether you love winter, or your inner Scrooge festers as you burrow into your blankets, its important to protect your food. Hard weather means harsh repercussions for food storage. A solid storm can cause power outages, as well as lead to Springtime flooding. It is not uncommon for a violent winter storm, or even just a powerful Artic wind, to completely leave your home without power and water.

So, what can you do? Like with all things, preparation is the place to start. Being ready for a potential problem can save you the cost of replacement, avoidance of foodborne illnesses, and eversion from a nasty stress-headache.

Let’s talk power outages. Here’s a few helpful tips and tricks to have on hand before the weather takes its toll:

Purchase food and appliance thermometers.

Bacteria is the enemy of food storage, and in the case of a power outage it can be difficult to avoid the temperatures that host that bacteria. Between 40 and 140° F is the danger zone for your food. So, keeping your goods at safe temperatures during a power outage is imperative.

Once the storm has passed, and your electricity is restored, you can determine the food’s safety by checking for ice crystals. Ice crystals mean your food can safely be refrozen. If your appliance has remained below 40° F, that delicious grub can take on a refreeze. Throw out perishable items such as meat, seafood, poultry, leftovers, and eggs that have been stored at 40° F and above for more than two hours. Speaking of leftovers, a smart daily storage tip is to freeze your leftovers, or anything you won’t need to eat immediately, instead of refrigerating them. Sure, its not the most convenient of antics, but the usefulness far outweighs the microwave defrost time.

 Know where you can get a block of ice (dry ice does wonders) and extend your freezer food’s life by two days. It doesn’t hurt to have a few coolers on hand just in case your power does not get restored after four hours. Once your fridge gets warm, it’ll need a good cleaning to be usable again.

 Freeze bottles of water ahead of time and leave them there. This will help keep your refrigerator below 40° F, and your freezer below 0° F, the optimal temperatures for food appliance storage.

 Stop opening that refrigerator and freezer door.

On a good day, we can stand in front of our fridges to browse the contents and lackadaisically decide on our midnight snack. Though, as an environmental standpoint, that is not a good habit either; however, that’s a conversation for another day. In a power outage, that perk is a problem. Keep the cold inside by opening the fridge only when necessary. An unopened fridge will give you about four hours of food safety, while an unopened freezer could give you up to 48.

Group your foods together to keep them colder longer. However, separate your meats to avoid cross-contamination due to thawing juices. If you’re storing your meats above your other foods, stop it now.

Don’t put your foods outside in the snow without proper storage. This might keep your food cold, but you could attract wild animals to your door. Instead, use the cold to your advantage by filling closable containers with water and placing them outside. Let them freeze, and presto, you have ice packs.

Once these harsh winter seasons have passed, flooding can become a serious issue. Prevent contamination of your food by storing your items off the ground. Think high-ground via a shelving unit, or the tops of your kitchen cabinets. Flood water is filled with contaminants that you don’t want in your body; therefore, water safety is its own subject to study. No, really, we’ve covered that: here.

Promise me here and now, you will never taste food to determine its safety. Say it to yourself, tell your kids, your parents, and your neighbors, “I vow to never use my mouth as a food safety thermometer.” Your mouth is not a laboratory, and your taste buds are not a good gauge on food safety. Check each item individually with your eyes, hands, and nose for discoloration, odd textures, and smells. If it’s warm to the touch, it’s a no-go.

Remember: bacteria love warmth. So, when in doubt, throw it out!